There has been a good deal of chatter online lately about the future prospects of the Democratic Party, focusing principally on the growing conflict between progressive and centrist groups and tendencies. Not at all surprisingly, the Clinton forces, heirs to the Democratic leadership Council, have been badmouthing the Bernie supporters, who in turn have been dissing the Clintonite Establishment. A cottage industry of Kamala Harris supporters has sprung up, hearts beat faster whenever Elizabeth Warren surfaces, Joe Biden has dipped his aging toe in the water, and meanwhile an astonishing increase in the number of local Democrats interested in public service has hopes for 2018 rising. All of this is just what any observer of American politics would predict.
I would like to offer my amateur opinion about all of this, taking care to make clear that I am no sort of expert on the subject at all. I have never run for any public office more exalted than School Committee [ran third in a three way race for two seats, lost on a recount by twelve votes], I have never worked for any political campaign beyond knocking on doors and entering data, and the closest I have ever come to big league politics was attending a lunch in Shutesbury, MA with a small circle of equally inexperienced lefties to discuss with Sam Bowles his chances for running for the 1st Congressional District when Silvio Conte retired [Sam decided against it, and the seat was won by John Olver, who held it for many years until he was redistricted.] With those caveats, let me plunge in.
First, I think we should focus on 2018 and leave 2020 to the professionals and the wannabes for the time being. The political situation is extremely unsettled, it is at this point an open question whether Trump will serve out his term, and the 2018 off year elections offer very exciting chances for those of us on the left. For reasons I will lay out, I think this is an ideal time for an extremely forceful left-wing political push, even though I think the somewhat longer term prospects for left politics are questionable if not dim. Let me explain.
Off year elections are determined by turnout. Only a third of eligible voters actually bother to go to the polls in the off years. Hence, voter enthusiasm is all. Two things have given the left an enormous advantage in the competition for off year turnout. The first, of course, is Trump himself whose appeal beyond a small base is dwindling, and who inspires loathing across a wide swath of the remainder of the electorate. The second factor is health care. Never mind the facts, the history, the details. The American people have gotten it into their heads that the Republicans want to take away their health care. Without giving the matter very much serious thought, they have come round to the conviction that health care is a natural human right. Lefties have been saying that forever, alienating the chattering classes, appearing uncontrollably radical, losing elections. All of a sudden, it seems that everyone agrees.
MEDICARE FOR ALL. That is a platform we can run on in 2018, it is a platform we can win on. Never mind that there is not the slightest chance in the world of anything remotely like that being enacted. A tidal wave of Democratic wins in 2018 would produce a usable majority in the House and a miniscule majority in the Senate. Radical health care reform might pass a Democratically controlled House but it could never win fifty-one votes in the Senate, let along 60 votes to break a filibuster. It doesn’t matter. An anti-Trump pro-Health Care platform in 2018 could dramatically alter the political complexion of Congress.
If we actually took back the House and even the Senate, would it be enough? I am reminded of the wise words spoken by a sobered up Paul Newman to a young, inexperienced Robert Redford in The Sting. Redford wants Newman to teach him the Big Con so that he can get back at gangster Robert Shaw, who had Redford’s buddy Luther killed. Newman agrees, but cautions him: When it is all done, even if you take Shaw down, it won’t be enough, but it is all you are going to get, so you have to be willing to take it and walk away.
This is our moment on the left. With Trump as the enemy and health care as the issue, we can win big. Even if we do, it will not be enough, but it is what there is, and we will have to be willing to take it.